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December 14, 2019

Moving beyond tragedy


December 14, 2019

The death on Friday of a student associated with the Islami Jamiat Talba on the campus of the International Islamic University Islamabad is tragic. The incident took place when Liaquat Baloch of the Jamaat-e-Islami was addressing students and a skirmish broke out between the IJT and members of another student wing. The leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Sirjaul Haq has called for an end to student violence on campuses. This indeed is something we all seek. The death of the young student is to be condemned in the strongest possible words. For his family and his friends, it is a traumatic event they may never overcome. However, the violence is not a result of the actions of a single group. It stems from a system that has gone badly wrong – a system that unfortunately the IJT has been a very strong arm of.

The hold of the IJT and other such political wings grew after student unions were banned in 1984 during the Zia era. Since then minor efforts to restore them have not brought results. But the presence of genuine student unions on campus could play an enormously positive role in allowing students to develop ideas, express opinions and encourage the tolerance and acceptance of other views that we so badly need in our society. It is encouraging that the Sindh Assembly has recently passed a resolution restoring student unions. The resolution will not go before a committee. The Sindh cabinet has already made it clear that these student unions will be elected by a vote on campus and not through their affiliation to any political party. A member from the student council will also sit on the university syndicate to help voice the opinions of students and to protect their rights. Any cases of dispute will go before the ombudsman/woman and not the chief minister as was previously suggested. This is an important break from the politicization and corruption of student politics in the past.

Perhaps the model developed in Sindh can be widened to encompass other areas of the country. In 1993, a court judgment which was never followed up on already makes it clear that student unions should not be politicized or be linked to political forces. If we move along this path, we could see progress ahead. Elected student unions that represent the body of students on campuses can achieve a great deal, to tackle problems before they take a violent turn and to ensure all opinions are heard. Naturally, as already laid down by the law of the land, the incitement of hatred should not be tolerated. This too has been covered by the Sindh cabinet. We need to act to prevent the kind of unnecessary death we have seen in Islamabad. Young lives deserve protection. Young people also deserve the right to express their opinions in a safe, secure environment and play their role in bettering the environment on campuses. It has been refreshing to note that the mainstream parties even in parliament have recently called for an end to the student union ban. We hope they will follow this with the required legislative work.

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